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DEP: Freedom's cleanup firm cited for own MCHM spill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The company Freedom Industries hired to clean up after its Jan. 9 chemical leak has now been cited by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for allegedly spilling that same chemical into a drainage ditch.

The DEP announced Friday that it had issued two "Notices of Violations" to Diversified Services for spilling the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM at its headquarters in St. Albans.

The chemical spilled into a drainage ditch that empties into a tributary of the Kanawha River. There are no public-water intakes immediately downstream from the spill.

Diversified has, for years, transported MCHM for Freedom, and has been actively involved in cleaning up Freedom's Elk River tank farm, which contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people in nine counties.

The DEP began investigating the spill a week ago Friday, after officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency notified the state agency that there was a suspicious sheen in the drainage ditch.

EPA officials, as well as FBI agents, were at Diversified last week as part of a separate federal investigation. Both Diversified and Freedom are under federal investigations, but U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, who is conducting the investigations, has consistently refused to comment on them.

Last week, the day before the spill was reported, FBI agents seized at least six computers, eight hard drives or USB drives and numerous paper documents and records from Diversified's headquarters, according to an inventory of the investigation.

The DEP took samples of the sheen material and told Diversified to contain the spill, which the company did, according to a DEP news release.

Tom Scarr, Diversified's lawyer, said the company has complied with all of the DEP's requests and even taken extra steps to contain the chemical.

The samples showed that MCHM was present in the drainage system, but the DEP doesn't know how much was spilled, the cause of the spill or the exact time it occurred.

Scarr said the DEP took three samples, all of which showed MCHM, but that none of the samples came directly from Diversified's property.

"We've done no dumping. We can't figure out where this came from," Scarr said. "There are other businesses in the area that use chemicals."

The DEP said Diversified was cited for failing to comply with two aspects of the company's stormwater permit. First, the company's permit states that, "All discharges covered by this permit shall be composed entirely of stormwater." Second, the company was cited because it did not take "all reasonable steps to minimize or prevent any discharge that has a reasonable likelihood of adversely affecting human health or the environment."

The company has until March 26 to provide a written response to the violations. Scarr said the company will respond by the deadline.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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